A mid-October drug bust that netted 72 alleged crack cocaine dealers -- all black -- in the East Texas town of Palestine (pop. 17,000) is raising eyebrows at at least one widely-respected Texas publication. In a web-only special report, the Texas Observer is questioning whether modestly-sized Palestine really supported 72 crack dealers, why all those arrested where black, the nature of the state's ubiquitous drug task forces, and whether the state has another Tulia on its hands (http://www.texasobserver.org/showArticle_new.asp?ArticleID=3).
As the magazine noted, "residents of Palestine must have been surprised to learn that their small town apparently had more crack dealers than restaurants." But in two days of arrests beginning October 13, teams from the Anderson County Sheriff's Office, the Texas Department of Public Safety, the US Marshall's Service, and the DEA arrested a total of 72 people on various state and federal drug dealing charges. While the Observer found, unsurprisingly, that there were a handful of dealers in town, it also found that most suspects were charged with a single count of delivering crack to a confidential informant. None of those deliveries involved more than four grams, with some involving less than a gram. As the Observer noted, "Many of the suspects appear to be poor crack addicts swept up in the drug sting. Charged as dealers, they now face sentences of 20 years to life in state prison."
In "The Usual Suspects," the Observer wrote: "Yet again, a regional drug task force targeted an African-American population in a small Texas town, charging apparent crack addicts as dealers. All of this brings to mind the now-infamous Panhandle town that has become synonymous with all that's wrong with the war on drugs -- Tulia."
While the feds gobbled up the best cases, Anderson County prosecutors charged 56 people with distribution of crack. But in a numerical analysis of crack use patterns in rural areas, the Observer found that probably only about 70 people residing in Palestine smoke crack. The Observer strongly suggests that the vast majority of those arrested were no more than crack smokers. But prosecutors are determined to send them to prison for decades.
The story will continue. "The number of suspects charged as dealers in Anderson County has attracted the attention of the ACLU, which has uncovered task force wrongdoing all over the state and is investigating the Palestine bust," the Observer concluded. "Meanwhile, prosecutors and the Dogwood Trails task force will soon get the chance to prove that Palestine was so awash in crack that all 72 defendants really were legitimate dealers. The first trials are scheduled to begin in early December."